Way before the sharing economy hit the news, French-born Servane Mouazan was helping entrepreneurs – men and women – to grow and be heard. It was only a few years after she had created Ogunte, her social entrepreneurship network, that Servane realised her clients were mostly women. She decided to make it her sole focus. Today Ogunte is helping female social innovators across countries to create a future for themselves through sustainable change – a change Servane is passionate and proud to shout about. She talks to Myriam O’Carroll.
Where does the name Ogunte come from and what does it mean?
Ogunte is the name of a female spirit. You find the name in West Africa, in Nigeria and in the Yoruba tradition. I found it in Brazil, though. Someone told me one day, ‘You are from Ogunte’ and it’s a spirit I was born with apparently! That female spirit is someone who cares for and fights for people. That’s a bit like what we do with the women in our network, so that they make themselves heard and grow.
What is Ogunte’s mission?
Ogunte is about influencing social and sustainable change, but through the eyes of women. We want to make sure that people who represent 51% of the population have a say in the way they trade, care and are cared for in the world.
How does Ogunte help women?
We offer different services. Some are for people who are at the ‘seed stage’ of their venture. Ogunte has a pre-incubator, “Make a Wave”, that helps women understand investors. At the other end of the spectrum, for women who have done their homework, we host the Women’s Social Leadership Awards. The awards are cross-country and are now in their 7th year. They celebrate the women who have had a positive social impact in their field, who are also capable of passing on their learning and who are not shy of learning more. When people apply for these awards, we ask them to show evidence of their social impact, so it’s quite a substantial robust package that they have to demonstrate.
How did you create Ogunte?
I have always been interested in many things, but specifically in the community development work, which I started volunteering with.
I was also helping some groups to grow and I was fiercely passionate about sustainable change.
I had to be in that space where you help others with structures that are sustainable and that enable you to start your own business. So it was an occupation at first, until someone said, ‘Actually it’s good. Why don’t you get paid for it?’ So, I started Ogunte 11 years ago in the Netherlands and everything came together naturally.
What has been particularly rewarding on the journey?
Creating the first pre-incubator for female social entrepreneurs and having people from the financial industry calling the office and asking us to talk about why we are doing this and why it is necessary to help women at an earlier stage. So, seeing angels coming on board and raising interest from the outside world is very rewarding. Also having people applying from all over the world to be recognised as high-achieving female social innovators is amazing. Particularly for a venture that we started from our kitchen!
What have you been taught by the women you have met through Ogunte?
That we are all worth something and that we should shout out a little bit more about the achievements we have made.
We all have to be reminded – me included – of the good things we have accomplished and, if we don’t do that individually, it will just vanish; so we need to be more visible.
What do you do to create a better world on a daily basis?
Besides supporting women social entrepreneurs, I recycle my bath water. I cook everything from scratch. I recycle. I have no sense of clothes’ retail value anymore, because I swear by Oxfam, Freecycle, Swishing and sharing vs. buying. And I also help social entrepreneurs do that, which is how you create a ripple effect.
Where do you find support?
My own network! I have all the best directors and women around me to help – sometimes I tend to forget! I’ve got my friends and I use other networks, like Aspire Foundation and Business in the Community. I’ve got a male mentor, who is totally remote from my field and that’s great. I also consult my advisory board, made up of business women who are very eager to learn about social entrepreneurship. We co-mentor each other and that is a very valuable thing to do.
It is a way of reminding yourself that you have to apply the questions and the good tips you throw at the other person!
What’s your best luxury treat?
I would first have to define luxury … But it would be if I could just be in Rio to visit my best friend and mentor, without making a mess of carbon emissions and not too much jet lag!
Your best kept secret London address?
The Culpeper Community Garden, in Islington. It’s designed to look like small allotments making up a big garden, so community members have got a little patch but it’s not divided – this is society beyond borders you see! It looks like a well-maintained garden, yet a bit crazy, because if it is too clean it’s not fun! It’s lovely and you can just sit there, relax and breathe.
Do you have a personal motto?
‘Just get on with what you think needs to be done to change the world positively. Have fun, you only live once, so make it a great gig!’